The Endless Debate: Digital Downloads Vs Physical Games

The dreaded debate: physical games vs. digital games. Brought on by a simple chat about Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, two members of the MONG team are about to duke it out. In one corner, Harry, supporting the physical copies. In the other, Mike, the champion of digital copies. Who will win? Let’s see their thoughts below:

Harry: Why Physical Games are Better

Even as a child, I was never a material boy (or girl, sorry that Madonna song is too catchy not to reference). Saying that, when I did get something, I appreciated it with all my might. Today, I am the same way. I’m not materialistic, but when I get something, I appreciate and care for it as well as everything else I own. This goes for video games as well. I appreciate the physical discs, the creative designs of the cases, and the insightful, humorous, and well crafted manuals associated with each game (though it is a dying craft. This, as well as the following reasons are why I am a physical games kind of guy. Check it out:

Selling/Buying Used Games

Though it might be entirely possible that digital downloads are cheaper for single-purchases, it does not take into account selling your game or even purchasing a used copy. Since digital copies cannot be sold or purchased as a used copy, this forces players to pay full price. Some gamers might be indifferent to this scenario, but for others who make it a common habit to purchase a game, play it, then sell it, could find this predicament troubling. On the same token, gamers who prefer to wait until the craze dies down and then purchase a used copy of the game for a discount. Therefore, the ability to have a game be “used” is only possible for the physical games themselves.

Limited Editions/Exclusive Physical Items

The allure of limited edition items brings collectible fanatics out in swarms. I’ll admit, if I’m a huge fanboy of something and there’s an exclusive item, I’m hard pressed to ignore it (ie: the Pokémon X & Y Limited Edition 3DS XLs or the Japanese Hyrule Warriors bundle with the triforce alarm clock and scarf come to mind). Digital copies can’t offer (nor have I seen been offered) this type of fan tribute. Though some gamers do not care either way, if that special game you’ve been waiting for comes with a little something-something, then I challenge you to ignore it. Amazon, just recently showcased a $99 bundle that includes Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, an exclusive GameCube controller with the Super Smash Bros. logo, and the adapter to connect any GameCube controller to the Wii U. Do you think they’re offering this deal with those items and a digital copy? I think not.

No Worries about Digital Storage

Some might say that downloading a game would save space, but if we’re talking about digital space, they couldn’t be more wrong. If you were to purchase digital games exclusively, you’re bound to eventually run out of space. With this, you have to buy another SD card, hard drive, or whatever, to access more games. This in of itself is an entirely new purchase that, if you were to purchase physical copies, you would not encounter.

Physical Games are Greener

Who would have thought? An article from the Journal of Industrial Ecology focused on PlayStation 3 games released in 2010. In it, the writers explained that if a game was more than 1.3GB in size, that it would use more energy than creating the physical disc. The writers did acknowledge that the technology has changed over the years and cannot definitely state the findings as true in today’s era. But it’s science, so it has to be true, right?

You Can Play Whenever You Want

If you have a physical cartridge, you can just pick it up, insert it, and play. Systems like Steam and other programs that require a login, internet access, or something else, force players to be at the mercy of their servers. What happens if your internet is shut down? Or if the Steam server gets overwhelmed? You’re left out in the dust and are stuck waiting for someone else to fix the problem.

Mike: I’m Going Discless!

So my journey to “discless-ness” has been long and messy and has taken some surprising turns. I wasn’t always a digital adherent, for most of my adult life I have been a game collector. Retro games, limited editions, hard-to-find oddities, I would buy them all. When Microsoft announced the original DRM policies for the Xbox One, I was livid. So what happened? What took me from the hardest of hardcore hard-copy fanboys to the messiah of the coming digital apocalypse? Sit back and listen my friends and I’ll weave you a tale of the Boy Who Quit Retail.

My livelihood used to depend on physical game releases. From 2011 until earlier this year I worked for a nifty games, movies, and music store called Just Press Play (JPP), located in the heart of southern Pennsylvania. I loved my time there. I got to talk about and be around something I loved all day, surrounded by friends. JPP doesn’t treat games like a typical retail store would, as just a product that needed to move, they treat them with the reverence and wonder they deserve. It was here that my collecting went into overdrive as did my passion for the thing I had chosen to base my career on. Strangely enough, it was also my first step down the path that will eventually kill or irrevocably alter places like this.

Working at a used game store meant I had a lot of access to free/cheap games and a lot of these came in the forms of codes. Often customers would trade in games that had intact codes, I would buy those games and end up getting the extra games for free. My library swelled. This was also right around the time I discovered Humble Bundle and Microsoft really started figuring out how to do sales, cap that off with a PlayStation Plus subscription and I was a dead man walking, though I didn’t know it yet.

A little under a year ago I started my first real job as an IT tech for the county government. I wasn’t around games 24/7 anymore and now going out to the store was a chore. I found that I was barely buying discs anyway and when EA Access gave me another four free Xbox One games, that was the end. I traded in my last Xbox One disc along with a ton of other games that I had digital copies of (sometimes multiple digital copies across platforms). As good as Batman: Arkham City is, I don’t need to own three copies. Everything goes on sale super cheap eventually, if not right away, and I rarely feel the need to play things day one since I still harbor a great love for classic games. Even on the rare occasion I do want to play a game I can’t buy right away, I live half a mile from a Redbox. I actually have to stop and think if there is even a disc in my Xbox when I go to play it now.

I currently own hundreds of digital games, more than I can fit on the many hard drives of my many devices. I often go days without touching a disc and I absolutely don’t miss it. If you are still on the fence about digital, take a close look at it and ask yourself what you are really holding on to. Answer: the rotting corpse of gaming’s dark ages.

No More Damaged or Lost Discs

I have three small children and I can’t even count the dollars they have cost in disc repairs and replacements. I even bought The Lego Movie and Frozen digitally because then my beautiful little monsters can’t destroy their favorite movies. I also never have to worry about where my discs are located. Everything I own (and then some) is located in alphabetical order right there on the system. My dog and the kids can’t accidentally eject a disc that isn’t in the system.

People Can’t Borrow Digital Games

I love my brother to death, but he is terrible at returning games he borrows (and everything else for that matter) and so are many of my friends. I don’t mind setting up family share, I do mind never seeing my copy of Skyrim again.

Developers Make More Money

I went to school for game design so it always stings a little bit when I hear people say that they never buy new games. If there is a game you want to try out or you aren’t sure about, play a demo, play a friend’s (not mine) copy or at least rent it. There are plenty of ways to get games that support the people who destroy themselves for our benefit to make them. The only time you should be buying used is for retro games or older, out-of-print games. With more games coming to Digital Console and similar services even that argument is getting weak. I got Earthbound on Wii U for $10. If I had bought the SNES cartridge by itself it would have cost that much.

It’s Cheaper


No Seriously, It’s Cheaper

I got a digital copy of Mirror’s Edge for about $0.50. I recently got a used physical copy for about $25. The story is the same across the entire industry. It may take some patience, but every game goes on crazy sale eventually. Video games are not the expensive hobby they used to be. There are amazing games you can play for free all over the place and others that will literally only cost you pennies. The more we prove that those business models work, the cheaper the prices get.

Amazing Indie Games

Kickstarter, for all its flaws, and the independent publisher programs every major developer runs these days have allowed crazy, awesome, weird, amazing games to come into the world that might have never existed otherwise. Those games just wouldn’t survive the development process in the AAA retail environment. Without digital release we get no Child of Light, Gone Home, Wasteland 2, Walking Dead, Shovel Knight, Minecraft

Your Special Lady or Gentleman won’t Complain About the Crazy Amount of Junk Around Your House

For those in relationships the matter of where all this stuff is going to live can be a point of contention. My wife will bust out her 3DS now and then, but most of her gaming happens on her phone, and those games are getting insanely good. It is hard for her to understand why I need so many Halo statues and multiple boxes and bookshelves full of games and the junk that accumulates along with them. I’ve tried a lot of solutions but the best one has been to just get rid of that stuff and get everything on a hard drive. Every inch of shelf space I bequeath her brings a smile and a bit more peace to the Bertrand household. If someone loves you enough to let you see their naughty bits, maybe you can do this one little thing for them. That’s right, go digital and see more boobs. We call that a fringe benefit kids.

Your Turn

Well there you have it. What do you think? Are you a digital diva or a physical force? Let’s see your thoughts below.

Follow Harry Loizides, an Associate Editor, through his life of video games, obstacle races, and other adventures with Instagram, Twitter, and IGN

Mike Bertrand is an Associate Writer here at MONG. Scary games are totally his jam as evidenced by his Twitter handle (@survivalhorible).

11 thoughts on “The Endless Debate: Digital Downloads Vs Physical Games”

  1. Mostly digital, but I’ll pick up something in meatspace from time to time. For me it comes down to convenience, and there is nothing quite as convenient as what you can do from the comfort of your couch.


  2. Digital only for a while now. I support the industry and not the industry thieving GameStops of this world. They can go out of business for all I care and so should everyone. Once retail is dead there will be ways to sell your digital property and still keep the money within the circles of the publishers and developers.


  3. “We’ve had this debate since the early 2000’s, I don’t see them going anyway anytime soon, mostly because of things like Christmas, Birthdays, collectors, and many people not being able to consistently rely on internet.

    More likely they will go the way of DVD’s where they have not disappeared, because there is still a large market, but not being nearly as big as before.

    Myself, I still prefer physical games. You actually have more rights, I like to lend/swap with friends and I find this very appealing to look at.…”

    Comment from other site worth sharing


    1. I think physical games will still be around for some time, especially in the handheld market, but it is getting easier and more common to gift digital copies. Often retail boxes in stores are just a fancy way to sell download codes.


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